Voluntary contributions – the answer to Aucklands transport issues?

Auckland transport issues. Sure, the rest of NZ probably don’t give a rats about Auckland congestion, but the Greens recently pointed out that improving the transport links within Auckland is beneficial for the economy on a national scale – relying on concepts of efficiency and productivity and so on. The usual political, score points, jargon. And while I think the particular model the Greens have come to rely on is flawed, they have a point. Congestion in Auckland really is a national issue. Why? Because it will continue to be reported on and pushed and shoved in the faces of even the most southern dwellers until some government one day gives in and forces the country to pay – probably through another tax.

I get that there are many people who consider taxes to be a fair way of distributing wealth. I used to think the same way.  I was convinced that if I were a true socialist then I would support higher taxes so that those less advantaged members of society have access to vital services – health, education, welfare and so on. But the tax system we have is a complex tangled web of state extortion.  It has failed to improve the outcomes of our most disadvantaged and incrementally increasing taxes through different mechanisms creates other issues. When we tax personal incomes and then start increasing the tax level, we actually work against what we are trying to achieve. You can quote your Scandinavian models all you like. But we cannot fix these issues by increasing personal income taxes to 50+%. In fact, I can see no reason why we should do so. Especially, because others are allowed to increase their capital simply because they own land without the same tax burden. I’m not talking about your average homeowner – I’m referring to your average property speculator whose behaviour creates the artificial scarcity that places stress on communities who cannot afford to pay the rents along with other vital services. Under this system the government must step in to assist, but can only obtain the finances required through increasing taxes. In effect, we increase personal income taxes to subsidise property speculators – which is actually now extending to food speculators (this requires far more discussion but this will suffice for the purposes of this post). Moving on.

I note that the only solutions I have heard for funding the proposed Inner City Rail Link (to help ease  congestion) in Auckland are either road tolls (essentially taxes packaged as quasi-voluntary contributions) or a regional rates increase (a compulsory payment – or a tax). I’m not adverse to homeowners paying rates, probably because I am supportive of a land tax (again discussion for another post). But isn’t it time we took a different approach given the cost of living in Auckland is already excessive, and to develop it in a way that  meets the needs of its ever-growing population is going to cost. Alot.

How about a true voluntary contribution scheme. The kind where the community set the target and work toward achieving that target. If members of the community can voluntarily make payments towards the costs of improving their community’s transit needs, then the community assumes responsibility for the cost of a transit system that meets their needs and can simultaneously avoid forcible deductions from their incomes.

A major is benefit is the ability of individuals to make contributions within their means rather than being forced to pay an amount outside what they can actually afford and without limiting their ability to access roads. Moreover, it not just individuals who can make voluntary contributions, but businesses – big or small. Of course, there will be some people or businesses who will contribute more than others, but because its voluntary those contributing more will be doing so because they want to rather than because the state or a local body demands it of them. SO the same class division we get from personal income taxes is absent in a voluntary scheme, Additionally, this means that taxes, levies, rates and so on currently collected can be diverted to appropriate channels such as health, education, environment, energy and so on.

We know from smaller scale fundraisers that voluntary contributions and a common goal can create a sense of community that is often lacking when costs continue to mount for those who cannot afford to meet those payments. My point is in short: set the target and get the community involved (and by community I do mean the entire region). If we can show that we can raise the money without raising rates for the inner city rail, then we can start looking creatively at ways of funding other areas of concern for our communities.

I feel like we need to start getting creative about how we get the things we want in our communities. How can we resolve the issue without forcing those both within and outside the region to contribute at an amount set by the state? Do we want governments and local councils to forcibly take from what we earn (remembering that rates are an indirect form of personal income tax, since they are typically paid out of the wages of wage earners) or do we want to voluntarily contribute within our means towards a common goal?

NB: If you haven’t read previous posts, I am not against all forms of tax but I’d like to see a more simple system that taxes land and not productivity.

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